So, I think this could prove to be controversial. At least, to the one internet drifter who happens to stumble across my small hut in cyberspace. Quentin Tarantino has lost it. There, I said it. While film critics have largely been saying this for the last six or seven years, it seems that I’m very much in the minority with this view when it comes to people in their twenties.
This is not an all out attack on QT, this is a study of a man who had something special, and then squandered it. There is no doubt in my mind that he has made three excellent films. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown all stand out as triumphs in modern cinema. Whether you like his referential style, copious violence and wisecracking script or not, these films can’t help but be appreciated as brilliant works. So how did he so spectacularly lose the ability to make such defining films? I think the answer is, the river of ideas drying up, as well as becoming a figure of self parody.
In Inglorious Basterds, his latest flick, there’s a close-up of a bowl of cream while a conversation is taking place over a dinner table. The close up used in this style has become one of the Tarantino trademarks along with the trunk shot, and long, lingering takes. However, the difference is that before, Tarantino was using these embellishments to drive the story forward, to provide a different take on familiar situations and to render anticipation in the viewer’s mind. Now he seems to include these begrudgingly in order to make the film seem his. Quentin Tarantino is trying too hard to make a Quentin Tarantino film. One doesn’t feel that he creates films by an organic process anymore, but that he sits at his desks discussing scripts thus: “Ah yes, we’ll have a trunk shot there….then in the next scene, that’ll have a femme fatale in…oh and throw in a mexican standoff”
Tarantino’s dedication to homages and tributes has, as above, turned from witty referencing to cloying and tiresome. In “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” each major character is accompanied by a little vignette, and a freeze frame outlines their respective characters as “The Good” “The Bad” and “The Ugly”. Tarantino creates an obvious tribute to this in Inglorious Basterds, outlining the various Basterds in these small onscreen character profiles. Whereas in Sergio Leone’s western, these depictions are used to good effect, to set up the story, under Tarantino’s clumsy direction, they become tiresome. Eli Roth’s character is introduced as “The Bear Jew”. I was expecting a monster colossus of a man. Instead we get Roth, hardly well built, wielding a baseball bat. Are we expected to find this clever, amusing or fearsome? It ends up being none of these.
In the aforementioned first three films by Tarantino, he used his knowledge of trashy cinema, integrated with snappy dialogue and cartoonish violence to create films which were exciting, humourous and unpredictable. He has failed to achieve this in any of his films since Kill Bill Vol. 1.
I put forward the argument that a blockbuster like Transformers can be considered superior to Tarantino’s efforts this millennium. It is easy to see the motives of the likes of Transformers, Hancock, Independence Day, et al. Their chief goal is a money spinning enterprise, providing big, dumb entertainment “for all the family”. It’s an effort to pack as many people into multiplex cinemas as possible to reap the biggest financial award. But, and here’s the clincher, have they ever purported to be anything but that? Tarantino’s slew of latest films are junk masquerading as high art, and he has struck back at critics deeming them “unworthy” saying they don’t understand him. Doesn’t that sound a bit like the hormonal teenager whose parents have been honest about their son’s “eclectic” musical taste?
The horrible thing is that besides reasoned film critics, his army of devoted fans and sycophantic chat show hosts like Jonathan Ross manage to keep the idea going that he is still the prodigal enfant terrible of American cinema. When you find yourself yawning halfway through a Tarantino film, you have to ask yourself, if he based his early triumphs on keeping the viewer locked in with intrigue and expectancy, once these facets have faded, what does he have left?
Tarantino has run out of ideas. He should take a leaf from the Coen Brothers’ book, who manage to create films with their signature stamp on, but can never be said to have created identikit films.